Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs: How To Pick The Best Carbs For Your Diet

Monday, October 23, 2006 - 2:42pm

By Katie Clark, MPH, RD

There is a lot of buzz surrounding complex carbohydrates these days—and for good reason . Increasing the percentage of complex carbohydrates in your diet can be a helpful weight loss strategy.

Complex carbs vs . simple carbs: What’s the difference?

Simple carbohydrates

These are just what they sound like: simple sugars. Simple sugars are quickly converted to glucose in your body . Simple carbohydrates include naturally occurring sugars and are most usually found in refined and processed foods, including white breads, sugary beverages and candy.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbs are more slowly digested and almost always found in foods more healthful than their simple counterparts. You find complex carbohydrates in:

Top 3 Diet Plans (based on Diet Channel visitor activity):

Mediterranean Diet - "Ideal for people who like to cook and enjoy great cuisine." Learn More...

Jillian Michaels - "Jillian guides you through the diet and exercise changes you know you need to make." Learn More...

South Beach Diet - "This hugely popular diet promises diligent followers an initial weight loss of 8-13 pounds in the first two weeks." Learn More...

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grain foods

Health benefits of complex carbohydrates

There are numerous health-related reasons why you should increase your complex carbs, while decreasing the amount of simple sugars in your diet:

1.   Complex carbs aid weight management

Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates are often lower in calories. It generally takes more time to eat 100 calories of a banana than it does to consume 100 calories of soda. Calorie for calorie, complex carbohydrates are more satisfying and the calories add up more slowly when compared to simple carbs.

2.   Fiber keeps your feeling full longer

Most Americans don’t get the recommended amount of fiber per day: 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Increasing your complex carbohydrate foods always means an associated rise in fiber intake. And fiber helps you feel fuller for longer, meaning you’ll feel the need to eat less often.

3.   Complex carbs contain nutritional benefits

There is no limit to the amount of nutritional benefits you get from switching to complex carbohydrates. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other nutrients that are rarely present in simple-sugar food items.

Be a smart consumer: choose complex carbs over simple carbs

People and dieters alike are finally waking up to the fact that carbs are not the enemy . The recent focus on the detriments of low-carb diets has had a positive effect—there’s a renewed interest in the benefits of complex carbohydrates and whole grains.

But beware; food manufacturers are exploiting this interest with numerous ways to confuse complex-carb seekers. A good whole grain food choice should be made primarily from whole grains. It sounds intuitive, but it’s easy to get misled:

Be wary of misleading food labels

Regulation surrounding labeling claims on whole grain foods is weak. Any food with a modicum of whole grain in it can be labeled “whole grain”. Check the ingredient list: if “enriched” is in the first ingredient, put it back on the shelf. Look for the word “whole” in the first ingredient to assure it is indeed a good whole grain food.

Keep an eye out for the fiber content in your food

The truth is in the label, and particularly the “fiber” section of the label. A good serving of whole grains will have 3 grams of fiber or more per serving. Only choose breads, pastas, cereals and grains that meet this requirement.

You can’t go wrong with eating fresh fruit and vegetables

These are your best low-calorie sources of complex carbohydrates. They are packed with nutrients and fiber and make great snacks throughout the day.

Balancing carbs, proteins, and fat is key

Keeping your carbohydrates to 55-60% of your total calories is a good way to divvy up your nutrients. Follow this rule of thumb: “Make half your grains whole” and eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. These strategies will ensure that your complex carbohydrate intake is adequate.